# Encouraging new users to provide a name or a nickname

After the transition to MO 2.0, I noticed an increased influx of anonymous users, with user names like user####. Of course, people can have all kinds of reasons to remain anonymous. But I think that having a humanly identifiable name for your MO persona (which need not actually reveal one's identity) encourages a more helpful and pleasant dialog with other site members on repeated interactions.

So, is there a way to encourage new users to supply some kind of name when they sign up? In such a professional forum as MO, I would even encourage the use of real names. But that's a totally different discussion.

• On the old MO there were many with display-name "unknown (google)" since there this was the default name for those logging in with Google OpenID, while here they get the type of name you mention. (I am not sure what is the situation for unregistered users, but it might be similar, and since you talk about repeated interaction it might not be too relevant for this discussion.) Regarding identifiability this is an improvement. Are you still convinced there is an increase when the "user"s are balanced against the "unknown"s? (This is meant as honest question. As I did not pay attention to it.)
– user9072
Jul 16, 2013 at 14:27
• To answer my own parenthetical regarding 'unregistered' it seems to me this option does not exist anymore, which might contribute to a considerable increase as I think we had many question from unregistered users that I think had to choose some displayname (which often did not tell much in addition to not being unique at all), while now this seems not possible anymore and thus we have many that come via some OpenID provider and get "user" as default. I agree in principle regarding repeated interaction, my point is mainly that not few of them might not be here for repeated interaction.
– user9072
Jul 16, 2013 at 15:06
• I cannot say that I am quantitatively convinced of an increase in anonymous users, but that is an impression that I have. It's possible that the increase is simply proportional to the general increase of new users from officially joining the SE network. Jul 16, 2013 at 15:37
• Just to be more specific, here's a solution that I have in mind. After the OpenID registration screen, there could be a screen with the option to enter a name/nickname and a note explaining why it is considered a good idea. Jul 16, 2013 at 15:44
• Thank you for the details. Now that I realized the change regarding 'unregeistered' I am pretty convinced there should be quite an increase of people that do not choose their username but have it chosen for them by the system. Regarding the solution: I also think, as you suggest, that for new users the most (only?) effective would be a change of the sign-up process. (There is still an encouragement in the documentation to use real names.) The sign-up thing got discussed on meta.SO too see eg meta.stackexchange.com/questions/186121 But, some also want no name-recognition (even anon).
– user9072
Jul 16, 2013 at 17:07
• How about encouraging old users, like quid, to provide a name? Jul 16, 2013 at 21:11
• @BillJohnson: the title asks "name or nickname" and body makes very clear (as cmnt of OP on Scott Morrison's answer) that while OP seems to think that real names are desirable this is not the subject of the question. Thus, for the context of this question I even do provide a name. And, if the goal is to get people to use a name in this sense the focus on real names might run counter this goal. I intended, already before your cmnt, to merge my cmnts into an answer addding this. But, to answer your question right away: I don't think it would have a positive effect towards the goal of OP.
– user9072
Jul 16, 2013 at 22:27

In the early days of MathOverflow we invested quite some time emailing users asking if they'd consider using their real names. I think the reasons for wanting real names are as strong as ever. Writing emails doesn't directly address the problem for new users, but was very effective at reaching the present state where most of our most active users are using their real names. Perhaps it would be nice if the system could generate a 'welcome' email (on registration or association with an SE account) that requested using a real name.

Another possibility would be to arrange that the "community bulletin" box on the main page contained a link to a thread here on meta titled "Please consider using your real name!"

• The last paragraph can be easily fixed if we allow community-suggested ads. It's easy, for example, to create an ad suggesting people to use their real name, and direct it to some page (here, or on tea, or somewhere else) which points out why people should consider that.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jul 16, 2013 at 18:48
• These all sound like great suggestions, especially if they are within the control of MO administrators, rather than SO administrators. Let me just reiterate that I think it would already be an improvement if new users were to use a name, even if not their real name, instead of a number. Jul 16, 2013 at 18:52
• @AsafKaragila, I think it's time you used your real name, Bunny. Jul 16, 2013 at 20:25
• @Will: Talk about digging into the past. It's been like four years now.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jul 16, 2013 at 20:27
• I think to ask for it right at the start (the real name) is not the opt moment. It might simply get discarded essentially unread as some general "thanks for registering" irrelevancy. Also, then some might feel more uneasy about it then a bit later. (There are somewhat recent cases of users that started under pseudonym, then added semi-cryptic id info on user page, then display name to real name). But I agree with OP that real names is a bit orthogonal to what is actually asked. A community promotion add for real names seems quite misplaced IMO; but could redo a meta disc. and 'feature' it.
– user9072
Jul 16, 2013 at 21:13
• And some started with a pseudonym, and continued with one worth only one @quid. Better than one USD, I suppose. :-)
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jul 16, 2013 at 23:07
• @AsafKaragila, you're right, I'm sorry about bringing up the past, Pookie. Jul 16, 2013 at 23:43
• @Will: I've had a nice glass of whisky, but it seems that you're the one who got drunk. Now I completely lost you.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jul 16, 2013 at 23:46
• @Asaf, I was offering Pookie as yet another real name for you, even after discarding Bunny. It comes up in a song in the movie/Broadway musical "Rent," imdb.com/title/tt0294870/?ref_=sr_1 Bunny comes from "Red," with Bruce Willis and Mary Louise Parker. The actual Bunny is Helen Mirren imdb.com/name/nm0000545 Jul 16, 2013 at 23:51
• @Will: Ah. In that case, forget about my comment pertaining for years ago.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Jul 17, 2013 at 0:11
• @Asaf, of course, never happened. Jul 17, 2013 at 0:44
• @AsafKaragila: this is quite funny. And, sure, I did not describe my case. I just offered an obervation. But if somebody thinks it is a good idea to send the email right away, I do not mind. (Actually in my very personal interest I rather prefer it, as as said I think it will have less effect and I am against this realnames thing.)
– user9072
Jul 17, 2013 at 0:54
• FYI: Mod>Links>Community events lets you add your own entries to the bulletin. Use the date display override to use your own grey text for it. ("announcement": "Please consider using your real name") Aug 7, 2013 at 11:21

So, is there a way to encourage new users to supply some kind of name when they sign up?

One way of thinking about [using your real name] is that if you're not comfortable enough with a post (question or answer) to want your [real] name next to it, are you really sure you want to post it in the first place?

I.e. using ones real name encourages contributing more useful content, and in reverse it increases the trust others can put in you providing higher quality than a "user6797". Though I agree that for researches it might be advantageous to decrease their "google polution" by using some slight modification/abbreviation/etc yet indicate their real name on their user profile.

• For balance one might add this blog-post linked from said user's page msmvps.com/blogs/jon_skeet/archive/2012/08/22/… (Also on math.SE somebody had something like this (they are now inactive but have something related), also here on MO we have issues with unwanted email.)
– user9072
Aug 16, 2013 at 11:11
• On your points: maybe some do not need that extra encouragement? Also inspecting content of some people posting under their real-name I doubt the effect is that significant. Also some say specifically that they do not want the 'trust' others have in the quality of their posts depends on their name. The content is here to be understood; if some are not capable of forming an opinion without name-recoginition perhaps the problem lies there. And, the argument can be turned around if you post without an actual identity attached the content needs to convince on its own merits.
– user9072
Aug 16, 2013 at 12:38
• @quid Good points, that's why ultimately everyone has to decide this for themselves. I just wanted quote that argument which does make sense, but as you state, there are also benefits in anonymity Aug 16, 2013 at 18:04
• The question has nothing to do with "real" names. This "answer" has nothing to do with the question, and should be deleted as "not an answer".
– TRiG
Jun 15, 2015 at 11:02
• @TRiG I fail to see your point, but if you disagree then by all means downvote, that's what the voting system is for. "not an answer" in contrast is for posts like "I have that problem too, have u checked the latest episode of myth busters btw" Jun 15, 2015 at 11:35
• The question is about "some kind of name" (i.e., something other than "userXXXX"). The answer is about the misguided effort some people here have to enforce "real" names. Completely unrelated.
– TRiG
Jun 15, 2015 at 11:37
• @TRiG I'm afraid you only skimmed my answer, I stated that any nickname is better than the default. at no point did I intend to enforce real names. maybe my formulation is suboptimal though, given English is not my native language Jun 15, 2015 at 12:18

To the end of having more users provide a name or a nickname, I think one will have relatively more success if one communicates that a (for some and/or some practical purposes) also a displayname that is not the real name but something more easy to recognize and memorize than the names provided by default has some value.

So, if one wants users to choose an actual displaynames, first, one might encourage to do this giving some motivation for doing so in the faqs, and not only insist on the real names issue (in particular, giving a reason that is in my opinion is a complete anti-reasons; even if I wanted to use my real name [I don't], I never would given what the faqs say on why one should, but let me not digress).

Other possibilities:

1. As discussed, the sign-up process could be more geared towards gving one (but there are gobal considerations against this on meta.SO see my comment for a link)

2. One thing that is actually done in this direction is the autobiographer badge that encourages giving the pieces of information asked for in the profile.

3. Contacting by email was already mentioned, but personally I think (if this is feasible technically, but I guess it cannot be that hard in pronciple) a message/notification/reminder on the site would be more efficient. Say, when making ones third post without yet having changed the displayname one gets a notfication/reminder on the site regardings this with some infor why it could be good. (The advantage is that then people just might do it right away.)

But it should also be recognized that some actively want to avoid being recognized via displayname. (This applied half-way to me when I started using the site, though it was also somehow an accident I did then not have any actual displayname, which I changed when it became inconvenient for practical reasons).

In brief, if the goal is more people with actual displaynames one should not only insist on realnames (one still can, even at the same level of intensity, though it seems even a bit unnecessary as meanwhile it is hard not to note this is the dominant culture on the site) but also the actual subject raised in this question should be recognized somewhere (and not, as in various contributions here already, be right away conflated with the realnames question).

• I think 3. is a nice option. Jul 17, 2013 at 7:24

If the label shape matters, have the software assign names. If Pookie or Bunny don't serve, how about Atle Riemann, or Henri Birkhoff, or even Karl Friedrich Artin? We could even put a number after it to avoid some namespace conflicts. The user can then change it to something more comfortably revealing, like 14142user.